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Mitchell prepares to host ESD girls tennis championship for first time at Hitchcock Park

Mitchell was able to get on the ESD tournament host rotation by adding four more courts at Hitchcock Park in 2016, joining the eight existing courts at the park complex. That brings the total to 12 and having them all in one site is something few other ESD communities can offer.

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Mitchell's Delaney Degen connects for a return shot in a No. 2 singles match during a high school tennis dual against Sioux Falls Washington on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022 at Hitchcock Park in Mitchell.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL -- For fans of high school tennis, Mitchell’s Hitchcock Park will be in the spotlight on Tuesday.

For the first time, Mitchell will host the Eastern South Dakota Conference girls tennis championships, which begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27. The conference’s nine teams will compete across nine flights — six singles and three doubles — for individual and team honors.

Mitchell was able to get on the ESD tournament host rotation by adding four more courts at Hitchcock Park in 2016, joining the eight existing courts at the park complex. That brings the total to 12 and having them all in one site is something few other ESD communities can offer. If darkness comes into play, eight of Mitchell’s courts have lights, allowing play to continue.

“We’re pretty proud of Hitchcock Park and everything that the city provides for us as tennis players,” Mitchell tennis coach Pat Moller said. “To be able to show that off to our conference, that’s something that the tennis community in Mitchell has a lot of pride in.”

It is one of the toughest days of tennis on the calendar each year for high school players. Play starts at 8 a.m. and includes both singles and doubles play, with some players competing in up to six total matches in a day.

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“There isn’t another sport in high school where you ask a player throughout a day to perform in an athletic setting for five or six hours or more,” Moller said. “That’s underappreciated in what we ask these kids to do and it’s mentally fatiguing, it’s physically fatiguing and it’s something that we gear our whole season for.”

It comes on the heels of Mitchell hosting the ESD middle school meet on Thursday, which the Kernel girls won. Mitchell has hosted the ESD middle school meets before, including the girls in 2019 and the boys earlier this year. In May 2023, Mitchell will host both the middle school and varsity ESD championship in boys tennis, as well.

Moller said the goal is to get into the rotation to host varsity ESD meets going forward, with Mitchell making for a logical location in the geographic center of the conference.

“We want it to be a good experience and one that the coaches and players enjoy and are willing to have us be a part of again in the future,” Moller said.

For the players involved, there are a few advantages to playing the conference championships on the courts they practice on every day. But most important is the time saved away from a hotel or early morning on a bus.

“We’re going to get to sleep in our own beds and that’s a big deal when you start playing as early as we will,” said Mitchell’s No. 3 singles player Carsyn Weich.

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Mitchell's Hitchcock Park tennis courts are pictured in this April 2020 file photo.
Mitchell Republic file photo

As for the tennis on the court, it could be a razor-small margin to decide the ESD team champion. Watertown (14-3 in duals), Pierre (14-5), Mitchell (14-6), Yankton (17-6) and Aberdeen Central (19-7) were all strong during the regular season but the team points and bracketed style of a tennis tournament adds in many more variables about how the champion will be decided. Mitchell has won the last two ESD titles in 2020 and 2021.

“It’s going to be a real competitive event,” Moller said. "There’s three or four teams that have been strong and will be up there at the top and I think when we play our best, we absolutely can be right there and contend.”

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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